Best Picture Books of 2009

Eliza Clark
December 19, 2009

It always makes us happy to lavish praise on the work of the amazing writers and artists who make children's books. So below you'll find us gushing about some of our favorites of the new picture books of 2009. If you are missing a holiday gift for a preschooler in your life, one of these titles is sure to delight.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

Young children always seem to be after the new, new thing. Much as they cling to routine, they are also obsessed with novelty for novelty's sake -- a new toy or book is always desired, always welcome. Perhaps that's why they love Edna, the penguin protagonist of Antoinette Portis's new picture book, who imagines and searches for a color other than the blue, black and white that make up her familiar world. Portis's illustrations are beautifully fresh, with a captivating sense of graphic design. When that new color appears in the shape of an Antarctic scientist's equipment, it's a wonderful visual surprise, for penguins and preschoolers alike.

The Jungle Grapevine by Alex Beard

Everyday life with toddlers and preschoolers can sometimes feel a lot like the game of telephone. You say one thing, and the little ones repeat it with a pronunciation all their own, passing it on to the next sibling or friend until it's taken on a whole new, nonsensical meaning. Then they find it delightfully funny when you object "I didn’t say that!" A similar love of word-play underpins Alex Beard's The Jungle Grapevine, only here it is the wild creatures of the African savannah who misunderstand and garble each other's words. Beard's stylized illustrations do gorgeous justice to the denizens of the grasslands, plains and watering holes, and we especially like the whimsical map of the inside cover. Any animal-lover will be entranced!

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

This is a story for the wide-eyed idealists among us, and who is more of an idealist than a preschooler? A boy named Liam lives in a drab, gray urban landscape until the day when he discovers a few weeds growing atop an abandoned elevated railroad track. He nurtures the plants with water and care, and little by little they do what plants do: grow and grow. By the end of the book, Liam lives in a drab city no longer, but the kind of urban parkland that city-dwellers dream of. The pictures are captivating, and the preschoolers we know fervently agree with the idea that a garden can grow anywhere at all.

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai

Young children tend to lead lives in constant motion. They are up early for school, and then it's on to play dates and various after-school pursuits. Their hustle and bustle follows, of course, our own, and it often seems that the motion and commotion of family life is an unstoppable force. The appeal of this book, then, is one of contrast. It evokes the absolute stillness that deep snowfall brings to a faced-paced city, and to a child's world. The colors are muted, soft grays, browns and white, and the text is spare: "No cars drove by. No one walked around. There was just the falling snow." The little bunny of the story stays home from Kindergarten, and waits in the quiet for the snow to stop, so that he can go out to play, so that his daddy's plane can take off, so that motion can resume. We savor this very beautiful book as we savor any moment when the world and our children momentarily hold still.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

No book of the past year is more visually magnificent that Jerry Pinkney's wordless interpretation of Aesop's beloved fable. Pinkney's amazing, large-scale pencil and watercolor illustrations rightfully take center stage and fully convey the story's drama. Even for adults who know the fable of the great lion who releases the mouse, and the mouse who sets free the lion, the tale is infused with fresh suspense. And for children and grown-ups alike, these pictures are an eye-popping treat. Wow! Jerry Pinkney has been a prolific illustrator over the years -- have a look at his web site for more of his gorgeous works for children.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child

We always appreciate an imaginative take on a classic, and this new Goldilocks is full of strange and wonderful surprises. Lauren Child takes up where she left off with her witty version of The Princess and the Pea and gives us a more fully elaborated Goldilocks than we've ever seen before. The pictures are unlike anything else on your shelves -- photographs of ingeniously constructed sets where a curly-headed doll and stuffed bears play their part. The details of the forest and cottage are absolutely mesmerizing! What we like best, though, is how much this book reminds us children's play. The dolls and plush animals at our houses are constantly being recruited to enact various fairytales -- this book reminds us to get out our cameras and make a record!

Other 2009 titles to please a preschooler:

Birdie's Big-Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim
A sweet and witty take on little girls who love their mommies' shoes -- especially their most teetering, tippy high-heeled shoes. Fabulously stylish illustrations complete a stylishly told tale.

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett
A thoroughly surprising and funny take on the old "ugly duckling" concept -- what is in that odd egg? Read and find out!

The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich
The perfect book for any child obsessed with sea creatures and/or superheroes. Are you intrigued? We were and discovered an unusual and first rate story of adventure at sea.

Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee
Store this away for Halloween next year. A lyrical, rhyming tale of a little girl who longs to fly like a witch. Lovely linoleum bock print illustrations capture the dark magic of Fall nights.

From the Parents

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